Thursday, November 13, 2008

Churches, States and Politics

Church leaders have no right to tell voters how to vote; nor do they have any right to punish voters for how they vote. Period. End of Statement.

But he said his congregants shouldn't take Communion until they do penance for supporting "the most radical pro-abortion politician ever to serve in the United States Senate or to run for president."


This is a massive abuse of the church's position in society, and a serious breach of the social contract that provides churches with a privileged, tax exempt status.

Just as I took Bishop Henry to task for threatening to withdraw communion for politicians who voted contrary to his church teachings on the gay marriage issue in Canada, this is the same kind of abuse, and it deserves to be called out for what it is.

The church is free to exercise such powers, but as soon as it does so on matters directly related to a voter's individual participation in democracy, it is time to put them on the same legal, social and taxation footing as every other political activist organization. Anything less is to accept once again the clergy dictating to the politicians that govern our respective countries how they should govern. We've been there before, and it wasn't a pretty picture.

13 comments:

Cardinal Pole said...

Firstly, to correct a couple of errors, or at least ambiguities, in the original article (mostly for the benefit of any Catholics who might be reading):

1) Fr. Newman says that “church law doesn't allow him to refuse parishioners the sacrament”. But this, I think, would depend on the nature of the support for Sen. Obama: if it involved public promotion of him, or at least of his pro-abortion background, then I think that Father could indeed refuse to distribute Holy Communion to the supporter.

2) The portion you quote says that:
“But he said his congregants shouldn't take Communion until they do penance for supporting "the most radical pro-abortion politician ever to serve in the United States Senate or to run for president."”

I question the editing that the journalist has used here: compare this with the following condemned error:

“They are to be judged sacrilegious who claim the right to receive Communion before they have done worthy penance for their sins.”
(Dz. 1312, http://www.catecheticsonline.com/SourcesofDogma14.php)

In other words, given that the three parts of penance are contrition, confession and satisfaction, one only need be contrite and have received Sacramental absolution before returning to Holy Communion; the atonement may be carried out later.

Now to your own errors, MgS:

1) You say that “Church leaders have no right to tell voters how to vote; nor do they have any right to punish voters for how they vote. Period. End of Statement.”

You seem to think that by saying “Period. End of Statement.” you can cut off debate; you’ve certainly done it at my blog. But your assertion remains a mere assertion, and a most curious one for someone so big on ‘social contracts’. The Church is a voluntary society whose ‘contract’, as you might say, stipulates that certain behaviour entails certain punishment. Given that the individual has indeed entered the society consensually, whyever should he or she not face his or her punishment?

2) “This is a massive abuse of the church's position in society, and a serious breach of the social contract that provides churches with a privileged, tax exempt status.”

Another pure assertion, and one which, ironically, illustrates why the contractual view of society is fundamentally bankrupt. Why are Msgr. Henry’s or Fr. Newman’s interventions “abuses” when the ‘contract’ in this case presumably does not rule out intervention on fundamental human rights issues?

3) Which brings us to problem three. Fr. Newman’s intervention pertains to a fundamental human right, namely the right to life, not a prudential political matter over which there are a wide range of policies that are compatible with Catholic social teaching. Somehow I suspect that if Father had intervened to refuse Holy Communion because of, say, support for a white supremacist party, on the grounds that Catholic teaching recognises the equal ontological dignity of all people regardless of race then you would not oppose him quite so strongly. Yet both are plainly cases of punishment for non-compliance.

MgS said...

Writes "Cardinal Pole":

(1) The Church is a voluntary society whose ‘contract’, as you might say, stipulates that certain behaviour entails certain punishment.

I argue that by publicly meting out 'punishments', the Church is in violation of the privileged status it enjoys in many democracies - namely that of being exempt from taxation (among other privileges). There is an implicit contract there which more or less boils down to 'stay out of the politics, and the politics stays out of the church'.

(2) Why are Msgr. Henry’s or Fr. Newman’s interventions “abuses” when the ‘contract’ in this case presumably does not rule out intervention on fundamental human rights issues?

When they start attempting to dictate how voters should vote, that's an abuse. When they start punishing voters for how they voted, that is an abuse. Period. This isn't a point of grey-zone discussion in my view. Quite frankly, the Church in general has zero interest in how its parishoners vote, and should be excessively scrupulous in its conduct. Demanding confession and penance because someone voted a particular way is beyond acceptable conduct.

(3) Which brings us to problem three. Fr. Newman’s intervention pertains to a fundamental human right, namely the right to life

Bull. Fr. Newman's intervention is specifically about what he supposes Obama will do; and is specifically an intervention that dictates to a voter that their vote was 'wrong' based on that supposition. The church here is not intervening in the debate around reproductive rights, but is intervening quite specifically in the secular, political lives of its membership.

BTW - The supposed "right to life" line is complete hypocrisy coming from someone who similarly advocates for the use of the death penalty, in my view. Get a little honesty - it's really about regulating women's sexuality, and punishing them for being sexual beings.

Cardinal Pole said...

1) "I argue that ..."

Then argue it. Fr. Newman did not try to involve himself in purely prudential politics, but in a human rights issue. You ignored my analogy to racial discrimination. If Fr. Newman had threatened punishment for support of a white supremacist party, would you have condemned him for this as well?

2) But Fr. Newman simply pointed out that support for abortion has consequences for those who wish to belong to the voluntary society called the Church. If they wish to avoid the punishment then they may leave the society.

3) "Fr. Newman's intervention is specifically about what he supposes Obama will do ..."

But any ranking of candidates is always going to be based on what one supposes they will do, as inferred from what they have done. What does this have to do with anything?

As for the death penalty, one can forfeit the right to life through an act of will. Abortion is the killing of an innocent human being by someone with no authority to do so, execution is the killing of a guilty human being by someone who has authority to do so.

As for abortion as "regulating women's sexuality", how can this possibly be so once the child has been conceived?! Once the child is conceived it ceases to be a matter of sexual morality and becomes a matter of bioethical morality.

MgS said...

If Fr. Newman had threatened punishment for support of a white supremacist party, would you have condemned him for this as well?

While I might have agreed with his opposition to the party, I would not agree with his actions to punish his congregation.

But any ranking of candidates is always going to be based on what one supposes they will do, as inferred from what they have done. What does this have to do with anything?

You just don't get it, do you? I don't really give a damn how the church ranks candidates for any office. I care that the church seems to think it has a right to dictate to its membership what their secular politics should be - and then asserts the right to punish its congregants on that same matter.

A voter's ballot is private and confidential. The Church has no legitimate interest in how their membership voted. What part of 'secret ballot' confuses you here?

The church has every right to speak to its position on issues. It has absolutely NO RIGHT to punish its members for how they allegedly voted. Once punishment comes into the picture, that is an attempt to use coercion, and undermines the purpose and point of a secret ballot in the first place.

(BTW - no entity has the right to dictate to a private citizen how they vote - period. This includes churches, and it includes other voluntary organizations as well - coercion by punishment undermines the independent will of the voters and thus undermines a core principle of democracy) Churches are at the receiving end of my ire in this regard because they not only engage in such activities, but they also enjoy a privileged legal status in addition.

As for abortion as "regulating women's sexuality", how can this possibly be so once the child has been conceived?! Once the child is conceived it ceases to be a matter of sexual morality and becomes a matter of bioethical morality.

"Bioethical Morality" - my you like making up terms, don't you? Or haven't you learned that ethics and morality aren't necessarily the same thing yet?

(1) There's an amazing number of anti-choicers out there that are also stridently opposed to any form of contraception. Hmmm ... clue #1.

(2) Anyone else notice that pregnancy only happens to women, and most often as a result of sexual intercourse? (and no, the "keep your legs crossed" BS doesn't cut it in the real world, and never has)

(3) A woman does not cease to be a sentient being the moment that egg and sperm meet. Which means that she has an awful lot to say about how any pregnancy progresses. In particular the implicit revocation of a woman's right to decide what goes on in her body is exceptionally offensive. (and no, I do not accept the view that the fetus is a distinct entity from the woman as a valid counter argument because it ignores the woman's sentience, and it fails to consider the dependence of the fetus on the woman)

Lastly, the issue is one of access to safe procedures. We already know what happens where medically safe abortions aren't available and it isn't pretty. The moral decision belongs to the woman; the doctor involved has an ethical decision to make.

Lastly - it is highly unlikely you will ever convince me that there is a just argument for the death penalty.

Véronique said...

@Cardinal Pole:

There is always at least one logical flaw in the arguments of those who are against abortion. That is the mischaracterization of those who are pro-choice.

Pro-choice isn't some kind of euphemism. It means exactly what it says -- that it's up to each individual woman to determine whether she will carry a fetus to term. A person can be against abortion but in favour of choice. That's pretty much Joe Biden's position. He is not an abortion supporter, but he knows that it's not up to him to decide for anyone else.

You are not the only one to characterize pro-choice people as being "pro-abortion." It's a common fallacy. But it's such a mischaracterization that I have to wonder if it's a deliberate falsehood for propaganda purposes.

Cardinal Pole said...

“While I might have agreed with his opposition to the party, I would not agree with his actions to punish his congregation.”

Thank you. Condemned by your own mouth. I expect, then, never to hear you condemn Pius XII for failing to threaten punishment for supporters of industrial-scale Nazi slaughter, since you condemn present-day Churchmen for threatening punishment for supporters of industrial-scale abortionist slaughter.

“I care that the church seems to think it has a right to dictate to its membership what their secular politics should be”

No, the membership joins, presumably, because it agrees with the teachings of the society’s authority. You’re getting the sequence mixed up: the member joins, knowing the teachings and the punishments; it’s not as though the punishment is sprung on members who are ignorant of the teaching. If they oppose the teaching then why did they join, or remain in, the society?!

“coercion by punishment undermines the independent will of the voters and thus undermines a core principle of democracy”

Another core principle of democracy is freedom of association. A conflict between the ‘contract’ of the private/internal society and the public/external society’s contract is no reason to exclude the operation of the private contract, so long as it was and remains voluntary.

Your points (1) and (2) regarding abortion do not disprove the fact that the sexual dimension undeniably no longer applies after conception (note the contra in contraception). As for point (3):

“[that] the fetus is a distinct entity from the woman as a valid counter argument ... ignores the woman's sentience”

Of course it does; what does the sentience of one human being have to do with the right to life of another?! I take it, then, that you are a preference utilitarian? And condition of dependence is also irrelevant since a new-born baby is entirely dependent on external assistance, but no one denies his or her right to life. Except, of course, the preference utilitarians.

“The moral decision belongs to the woman”

Because she creates her own morality. Fascinating.

“it is highly unlikely you will ever convince me that there is a just argument for the death penalty”

In fact, it’s impossible—you think that there is really no such thing as justice! But given that you are on record as thinking that

“justice is largely a part of the broader social contract that is the society in which one lives”
(http://cardinalpole.blogspot.com/2008/10/on-revenge-and-retribution-plus-request.html)

how can you deny that a voluntary contract that stipulates a death penalty for murder is just? Indeed, how could you deny that a voluntary contract that stipulates a death penalty for parking infringements is just?

Véronique,

“Pro-choice isn't some kind of euphemism”

I’m afraid it is. Given that the two possible objects of a woman’s purported faculty of ‘choice’ are abortion and non-abortion, and given that no-one contests that non-abortion is a legitimate exercise of the choice faculty, it is perfectly reasonable to speak of pro- and anti-abortion individuals.

An analogy to the death penalty debate makes this clearer: as MgS knows, I am in favour of the death penalty. But I won’t try to weasel out of this and try to appeal to death penalty opponents by saying that ‘I’m not pro-execution, just pro-choice’, since it goes without saying that I don’t want to see the death penalty imposed indiscriminately, without regard to the gravity of the alleged crime.

I grant you, though, that there is a certain inadequacy to the term ‘pro-abortion’. There are three possible positions to hold regarding abortion: pro-abortion in all circumstances, pro-abortion in some circumstances, and pro-abortion in no circumstances. Pro-abortion is a shorthand for “pro-abortion in some circumstances” (since no-one wants to see every fœtus killed) and anti-abortion is a shorthand for “pro-abortion in no circumstances”. That seems fair to me, given that the media have limited space and time and can’t very well write out the full “pro-abortion in no/some circumstances” in every report.

MgS said...

Thank you. Condemned by your own mouth. I expect, then, never to hear you condemn Pius XII for failing to threaten punishment for supporters of industrial-scale Nazi slaughter

Cardinal Pole, you failed utterly to grasp the nuance and point of my statements. Pius had every right to speak out against what the Nazis were in fact doing. He had every right, and a legitimate obligation to do so. Whether he had a right to demand that congregants who supported it 'confess and be denied communion' is another issue altogether.

You would do well NOT to put words in my mouth - because I guarantee you will be wrong.

No, the membership joins, presumably, because it agrees with the teachings of the society’s authority.

Bull. In the case of the Catholic Church the vast majority of its members are 'born into, and raised in the faith'. There is no opportunity for critical analysis until much later, by which time patterns and habits are established.

With respect to freedom of association, that is perfectly true, BUT you continue to miss the point that no organization has a right to dictate to its membership their politics, in particular, to use punishment as a consequence - THIS APPLIES to both Churches and secular organizations. It's no different in my view than being clubbed for a particular political vote.

I take it, then, that you are a preference utilitarian?

My, we like inventing big words, don't we? Since I doubt we even agree on what a 'preference utilitarian' is, I'm not even going to touch that one.

Because she creates her own morality. Fascinating.

Humanity creates morality, twit. We each make moral and ethical choices every day. Your statement above denigrates the ability of everybody - male or female - to be reasoning, rational and moral beings.

In fact, it’s impossible—you think that there is really no such thing as justice!

Again, you have no right to put words in my mouth. I simply do not formulate justice based on my interpretation of 2,000+ year old scripture - so I do not seem to be able to give you the absolute, concrete definition you crave. Too bad for you.

But I won’t try to weasel out of this and try to appeal to death penalty opponents by saying that ‘I’m not pro-execution, just pro-choice’

Being pro-choice, contrary to your mangling of topics here, is in large part about recognizing that a woman does not mysteriously become unable to make meaningful moral and ethical decisions about herself the moment she becomes pregnant. There is a huge difference between an individual moral and ethical decision about their body and its state, and the state imposing the death penalty upon an individual as an instrument of justice. If there is a 'weasel move' in your words it is in your attempt to draw a mapping between the death penalty discussion as a matter of justice and abortion - the two are fundamentally unrelated, and only bear a superficial resemblance based on emotional sophistry from the womb-control crowd.

Véronique said...

@Cardinal Pole

The logical flaws continue. If you are in favour of capital punishment, then of course you are in favour of it being used lawfully and judiciously. That is not about choice.

A person who is pro-choice, however, is not in favour of abortion. No one is in favour of abortion, at least no one I know. Pro-choice is in favour of choice, in favour of letting each woman decide for herself. How is that an immoral position? Each woman is responsible for her own decision, just as all of us are responsible for our decisions in life.

Cardinal Pole said...

Comment 2:

Now, in this comment I want to show that your desire for an absolute ban on tax-exempt private societies punishing members for voting behaviour has no basis in your contractual view of society. I need to establish certain premises that you have so far refused to provide unambiguously, so correct me wherever I have made false assumptions.

Premise A): The State’s proper end is building up the common good. Upholding human rights is a prerequisite for this.
Proof: the definition of the State, the reason for consenting to any given social contract.

Premise B) Individuals have a right to vote freely.
Proof: “no entity has the right to dictate to a private citizen how they vote - period.”

Premise C) Individuals have the right freely to join or leave private societies.
Proof: “With respect to freedom of association, that is perfectly true”

Premise D) Voluntary private societies that impose rewards or punishments for voting in a certain way shall not receive exemption from taxation.
Proof: “Church leaders have no right to tell voters how to vote; nor do they have any right to punish voters for how they vote.”

Premise E) Tax-paying private societies may, however, impose rewards or punishments for voting behaviour.
Proof: “The church is free to exercise such powers [punishments like withholding Holy Communion], but as soon as it does so on matters directly related to a voter's individual participation in democracy, it is time to put them on the same legal, social and taxation footing as every other political activist organization.”

Now already there is an apparent tension between B) and C), since private societies may, according to E) punish voting behaviour. But the real point of interest is D). Under what circumstances may this premise be relaxed? I contend that, given that A) is an ultimate norm while D) is only a proximate norm, D) may be exercised according to E) when the private society thinks in good faith that a human rights issue is at stake, since human rights violations compromise A)—D) is subordinate to A), so breaches of A) entail permission for a breach of E).

Now it seems to me that there are only two ways in which you could disagree with this reasoning, MgS (forgive me if that sounds presumptuous, and by all means correct me if wrong):

X)
D) is the ultimate norm, while A) is only a proximate norm. But this is absurd, since A) is the very reason for entering into a social contract; all else is subordinate to A).

Y)
The tax-exempt private society’s judgment that A) is under threat was not made in good faith. But you have no proof of this, and so the benefit of the doubt ought to prevail (call this premise F) if you like).

So by all means, show me where I’m wrong. But it seems to me that your original post has no basis even in your own contractual view of society. (I view which, as you can predict, I think is false, absurd and condemned by the Church.)

(And forgive me if I don’t respond to your response to my first comment, but I want to focus on your original reason for making the post, and I have limited time.)

MgS said...

Premise E is arguably false in my view, because it still requires a violation of the privacy in a secret ballot. Further, it assumes something that I did not state - namely the notion that a tax-paying organization had any right to impose punishment based on secret ballot votes.

In general, your argument fails to coherently recognize the privileged status granted to churches that is not granted to other political organizations and the historical reasons for that status.

(I view which, as you can predict, I think is false, absurd and condemned by the Church.)

I don't really give a damn what the Church condemns or approves of. (BTW - unlike you seem to, I don't cling rigorously to a singular and absolutist view of things - so to argue that I view society as "contractual" is similarly false and ill informed - it is contractual in some dimensions, but not all.)

Lastly, if I run a PAC organiztion of some sort on a subject, its revenues and activities are subject to audit and taxation - fundamentally, I argue that if the church is going to act as a PAC, then it should be subject to the same rules as every other PAC. If churches wish to to retain their status as tax-exempt entities, then they have to start being much more canny about their activities - blackmail and coercion with respect to private voting matters is beyond inappropriate.

Cardinal Pole said...

"Premise E is arguably false in my view, because it still requires a violation of the privacy in a secret ballot. Further, it assumes something that I did not state - namely the notion that a tax-paying organization had any right to impose punishment based on secret ballot votes."

Now you are bringing in a 'violation of the secret ballot', when there was no such allegation in the original news article. If someone freely reveals his or her voting preferences then what is wrong with that? E) requires no violation of voter secrecy, only that once an individual has freely revealed his preferences he face the consequences of which he was already aware, or leave the private society. Fr. Newman never demanded to see anyone's ballot paper, so premise E) stands, and is proven from what you said:

“The church is free to exercise such powers [punishments like withholding Holy Communion], but as soon as it does so on matters directly related to a voter's individual participation in democracy, it is time to put them on the same legal, social and taxation footing as every other political activist organization.”

And you say

"it assumes something that I did not state ..."

But you did state it. I quote you again:

"The church is free to exercise such powers [punishments like withholding Holy Communion]..."

You say that

"your argument fails to coherently recognize ..."

So state your premises and make your own argument. It seems that every time I raise a reasonable objection you bring in a new premise.

And how strange it is that you have censored my Comment 1; if you don't want to respond to it then don't, but at least let Véronique have her response.

MgS said...

Now you are bringing in a 'violation of the secret ballot', when there was no such allegation in the original news article.

To the contrary. The Bishop's censure basically requires parishoners to reveal their votes in confession. That is something the Bishop has no right to demand, and does violate the principle that a secret ballot is a private matter.

As far as the issue of witholding communion, that's fine - within the context of what the church is privy to. The church has NO VALID RIGHT to demand that parishoners reveal their voting practices to the church. PERIOD.

This is the other part of the picture that you seem to be missing - it's called boundaries. That I accept that denial of communion is a legitimate punishment within the context of the church, that doesn't mean that I accept the church has a legitimate interest in all topics relating their parishoner's life.

Returning once again to my fundamental point, the church has a privileged position in our society in terms of its relationship with the state. As a result of that privilege, the church also has a corresponding obligation to respect that privilege by staying out of the affairs of the secular state. Punishing people for their voting with respect to the secular state is stepping beyond boundaries that I consider acceptable.

NOTHING you have said to this point materially changes my position in this regard.

And how strange it is that you have censored my Comment 1;

It was a long drawn out rehash of crap you've said before. It added nothing materially interesting to the discussion as far as I was concerned.

By the way, it's not called censorship. I'm not preventing you from publishing your rants elsewhere. I'm just not going to publish everything you write here.

MgS said...

One last thought, Cardinal:

If I or some form of PAC attempt to coerce someone's vote by threat of punishment, I have committed a crime - it's called uttering threats; the punishment itself is likely a crime as well if carried out.

So what gives the Church the right to do the same thing?